One way in which the freedom of religion or belief in a country can be measured is whether minorities are permitted to carry out their own rituals during key ‘rites of passage’ such as birth, marriage and death.
One of the world’s fastest-growing Christian communities is that in Nepal. Between the censuses of 2001 and 2011 its Christian population more than doubled from 180,000 to 375,699.
Nepal’s new Constitution, introduced in 2015, recognizes the freedom of religion or belief but, as this video report by Vishal Arora shows, death in a Christian family in Nepal brings not only sorrow but also a gruelling struggle to find land for burial. As local residents object to any burial in their vicinity, churches in Kathmandu and surrounding areas have bought 130,000 square feet of land on a secluded mountain to build a cemetery.
“The biggest challenge is the road that leads to this cemetery,” says Joshua Magrati, Joint Secretary of the recently built Rest Cemetery in Makwanpur district, about 30 miles from Kathmandu, the national capital. “It’s about two miles from the main road. We have spent about 2.5 million Nepali rupees ($24,000 US), and yet it’s far from being complete. However, we have already buried two bodies here.”
Only a 4×4 vehicle can reach the cemetery, but few can afford it. Many will have to trek for one and a half hours on the steep, makeshift road, carrying the body.
“We chose this place because of two reasons. One, we wanted a place that was really far from any human habitation, as opposition comes mainly from local communities near a Christian graveyard,” explains Parshuram Sunchuri, a board member of the cemetery. “Two, the nearer the land to the city, the more expensive it is.”
“There is no other Christian cemetery near Kathmandu,” says Ang Dawa Sherpa, the cemetery’s General Secretary. “There is one in Pokhara, and one in Chitawan. They are far from here.”
Magrati adds, “In Kathmandu, there was a piece of land inside the complex of the Pashupatinath Temple, which allowed Christians to be buried. But they blocked that area for Christian burials (in 2011). There was another cemetery in Lele area, but political parties incited villagers to object to burials there. So we can no longer use that land.”
“Because Christians have no other way to put their dead bodies, they bury the dead person on their own private land. And in such cases, nearby neighbours and the community, they come up, and the next day they want the buried dead body to be taken out and put somewhere else,” says Bishop Narayan Sharma of the Believers Church in Nepal.
“(A few years ago), Shyam Nepali, a new believer who lived in Dolaghat area, died two months after accepting Christ. We buried his body on a private land that was owned by a believer. But after that, all the villagers came and objected to it,” narrates Leela Bhakt Pradhan, an elder of a house church in Dolaghat area in Kabhrepalanchok District, Central Nepal. “So we had to dig up his grave and walk about 3 miles with the body to bury him again on another private land belonging to a believer.
“Though the government recognised the Christian community in Nepal and our Constitution gives equal rights to all religious communities in Nepal, still we struggle with (the issue of) the graveyard,” adds Sharma. “We don’t know, after our death, where we will be taken for burial, where our bodies will be laid. We are still negotiating with the government, but so far there is no clue (as to what the government has done), no solution,” concludes Sharma.
Nepal’s government promised to allot land for Christian burials more than four years ago. Christians continue to wait.